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December 2021 / January 2022
Feature

De'Wayne: "I would define my album's genre as 'attitude'"

One of the most exciting newcomers in an age, De’Wayne isn’t concerned with labels.
Published: 9:49 am, June 25, 2021Words: Jamie MacMillan.
De'Wayne: "I would define my album's genre as 'attitude'"

"Finding rock music saved my fucking life, bro". As far as big statements go, De'Wayne drops in a huge one partway through our chat with the LA-via-Houston rap-rock-pop-everything-really superstar in the making. Sitting on the very edge of releasing one of the most exciting debut records in aeons, the excitement and release are close enough to touch. Not that he needs an excuse to be animated or ready to burst. The buzz and energy that marked him out as someone to keep a very close eye on following his support tour with close friends Waterparks (more on those miscreants later), and his startlingly powerful 'National Anthem' runs through his every pore. A mile-wide grin is never far from his face throughout our chat; in fact, at times, it feels like he's gonna bounce straight off his chair and through the screen. You can't blame him. This is De'Wayne's world now.

As always looking like the best-dressed man in music (him, not us), it's lunchtime Stateside as we join him over Zoom. With the album not even announced yet, he's visibly excited to be discussing *anything* to do with 'Stains' - the record named after his hope of being a stain on the culture. "I'm as excited as FUCK, bro!" he grins. "I really just wanna put my voice out in the world, so I'm feeling that urgency and rush to wanna just be out there. It's an incredible feeling, man."

From the surging angry rush of 'National Anthem', through the hyperactive greatness of 'Super 8' and moments like 'Walking To Work', he's about to drop a record with enough fire in its belly and energy at its fingertips to power an entire continent. Vital and vibrant, it's an album that doesn't give two shits about where you come from or what you look like, but only what you're bringing to the party. It's a firework let off indoors, its genre fluidity never feeling anything other than right *now* at every second in its freedom from restraint. The record skips from pop-punk through rap via frenetic punk; at times, it feels like a one-man moshpit. "Is genre dead? 100%!" begins De'Wayne. "I'm as punk as anyone, and just as rock and roll as anyone, just because of who I am. I would define my album's genre as 'attitude'; it's solely based upon that. People like The Ramones and The Strokes and Iggy Pop? All attitude. Genre's so dead, and I'm happy that it's coming about while we're about to put out music. Perfect timing!"

If you've been paying attention to his pure bromance with Awsten Knight, then that attitude should come as no surprise. Another clue comes with his love for Matty Healy and The 1975, another key influence for him over the last few years - and one who gets a namecheck on 'National Anthem'. "My God, he's the guy," he smiles. "He gets in trouble because I think he's a little 'too' smart sometimes. But when he speaks on politics and things, it really just strikes a chord with me. I admire what he does, and I admire that The 1975 look like a rock band but doesn't make rock music. They're boxless, genreless."

Having grown up in a Christian background in Houston, surrounded by gospel music and hip-hop, De'Wayne describes his taste as a process of that upbringing. "I don't know how to not mix my inspirations, you know what I'm saying? It might hurt me one day, but I trust my taste enough to think that I can mix these things."

Moving to Los Angeles changed his life forever, and today he still thinks of it as one of the most important decisions of his life. "When I came here, I completely became myself. I BECAME De'Wayne!" is how he describes it. Removed from the family influences, it famously eventually led to him listening to his first-ever rock song at the age of nineteen. It's the kind of story that feels apocryphal but is true nonetheless.

"I was in my apartment in Hollywood and just got a recommendation on YouTube for a rock album. I fell completely in love. I was like, THIS is what I feel in my head. All the thoughts and angst I was feeling, and it wasn't talking about bitches, hoes, money and cars. I knew none of those things! All I knew was pain." The record? 'Nevermind', thankfully. Otherwise, history may have turned out completely differently. Moving from that to Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side Of The Moon', the wheels started turning in his mind. "I was like, oh shit…" he laughs. "I know everybody loves them. But being who I was, I wasn't open to anything. But then I heard them, and it changed me, and I wanted to write SONGS. It didn't even have to be rock music, just SONGS."

"Is genre dead? 100%!"
De'Wayne

The Hollywood version of this Hollywood tale would immediately cut to De'Wayne surrounded by riches beyond his wildest dreams. The reality was very different, though. "Air mattress broke, I'm sleeping on the floor with the roaches," is how 'Money' puts it, and those struggles are something he confirms today. "I was still having to ask my family for money until last year," he says. "I really didn't have it together. I would be working at Taco Bell and then go play a big show in LA. My family were like, you're touring and stuff, but what's really going on?"

Before his breakthrough tour with Waterparks, things got especially bad. "I know some fans like their rock artists to kind of be poor and that, but I would be so hungry that I could not eat," he says. "I could not sing! And I did not have the mind to write a song".

Thankfully, things did begin to change for him - a combination of hype from his high-profile support slot, signing with Hopeless Records, and his sensational call for unity 'National Anthem' hitting the airwaves with ferocious force in the wake of George Floyd's murder and the Black Lives Matter protests that raced around the globe. It's as vital today as it was on first listen.

"That song could have existed in every era, you know? That's why I think it's so powerful," he explains when asked how it manages to be both prescient and timeless in its message. "I'm not surprised by anything that happens anymore, but I'm not pessimistic about it," he states. "I'm still optimistic. I see progress; I see things changing. But I'm from Texas, I'm from the South, I know how people are, you know? I definitely keep my head on a swivel at all times because I don't really trust anyone. And that's what the song represents for me. It's sad that we still have to do it, but I'm proud that I'm not scared to speak on those things." Saying that the country feels a bit more "even-keeled" since Biden's arrival in the White House, he is still watchful. "I still don't trust shit naturally," he says simply.

His exposure to rock also led to other realisations. "My family or friends would show me things, and I was like, well, I guess I have to like this because I look this way, you know?" After challenging his own preconceptions, he's buzzed about making others look at their own. "Just because it doesn't look a certain way, I don't want people to think, 'oh, this isn't rock music'," he explains. "I think it's beautiful that people of colour are right now making alternative music and pop music. It should be allowed into the scene just like everyone else is. You dig what I'm saying?"

In the year 2021, being a Black artist in the rock and alternative world still remains tricky in ways that it will never be for a white man. "I love the challenge, you know?" he nods. "But I think it's really interesting how people of colour have to be ten times as good looking, ten times as nice, ten times as good a songwriter, and be perfect all the time. I want to BREAK all that shit DOWN!"

Unashamed to be making rock music, is how he puts it. "Rock is just starting to look more like the world. No one's being thrown out of it," he laughs. "It's just starting to look more like what we know is all. There is a CHANGE happening right now, a new wave, and to be part of it is… I'll talk on this shit all day, haha. It's just beautiful."

As we chat about the madness that race should be an issue at entry-point in a world and genre where Prince lived, and he gets even more excitable than usual. "Instead of there being one Prince in the scene, there can be ten or twenty," he nods. "Just like these other people can exist and look the same and make the same music, we can have a lot of us too? There's enough room! That's why I always reach out to any person who looks a little different that I think makes dope music. I'd never be like, what the hell? Fuck this person; there's no room! We should love and appreciate each other!" He's nearly off his seat at this point, but after a beat, he sits back with a wicked cackle. "That's if the music's dope. If it sucks, then fuck you!"

Reading anything to do with De'Wayne, let alone actually speak to him, and you're immediately struck with just how passionate and inspirational his words are. Half hour in his presence, and you'll think you can fly. It's something that he's heard before, apparently, and he puts down to having to be his own biggest believer in himself before anyone else started listening. "I'm an angry chip-on-my-shoulder type of guy, you know?" He says. "I got looked over for so many years, people not understanding me. If I'm speaking on something, I really believe it. I'm just on the search for what's good for me; it's bare real for me, man."

Of course, one big believer was Awsten. "I love that guy; I really do," De'Wayne smiles. "If he didn't take me to England, I wouldn't have got my deal, and everything wouldn't have started for me. I would fight someone for him, yeah." Having spoken to the Waterparks frontman a few weeks earlier, we tell him that the feelings were plainly mutual. "It's good to be around people you trust and love," he says. "Rap music has always been very collaborative, and I feel like alternative music is doing it too maybe now?"

De'Wayne's collaboration picks have been deliberately chosen with care at this point, with just a handful of appearances alongside Awsten, Chase Atlantic and The Maine's John O'Callaghan's solo project in the bag so far. Not that they've been his only offers, of course, nothing marking out someone hot quite like guest spot appearance requests from all and sundry. "The past two months, we've been getting a little bit of that," he agrees. "And I'm just like, we got to say no to this. Some band wanted me to rap on their song. Why would I do this? Don't be CORNY. Unless it's The 1975, I'll do some harmonies on that," he grins. Move over Greta, De'Wayne's coming for your spot.

As talk turns to his plans for the rest of the year, it seems that there are still some top-secret bits that can't yet be revealed, but count us in for whatever they may be. "I'm about to fuck y'all up," he cackles again. "It's gonna be like a Ramones set. No talking between the songs, just HIT, HIT, HIT. I can see the future bro, and where we're gonna be. It's really fucking cool." Impossible to disagree with at any point in our chat, there's no difference at the end. Because well, yeah, it really is.

Taken from the July issue of Upset. De'Wayne's debut album 'Stains' is out 18th June.

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